In an essay today at the NY Times, Carl Safina pinpoints one of the lingering challenges in communicating about evolution: what he calls the “cult of Darwin.” If we would only stop focusing so much on the man, and more on evolutionary science, then it might boost public understanding. (I will be discussing some of these issues as part of a spring lecture series on evolution held here in DC sponsored by the National Academies and NIH. Details.)
From Safina’s essay:
Using phrases like “Darwinian selection” or “Darwinian evolution” implies there must be another kind of evolution at work, a process that can be described with another adjective. For instance, “Newtonian physics” distinguishes the mechanical physics Newton explored from subatomic quantum physics. So “Darwinian evolution” raises a question: What’s the other evolution?
Into the breach: intelligent design. I am not quite saying Darwinism gave rise to creationism, though the “isms” imply equivalence. But the term “Darwinian” built a stage upon which “intelligent” could share the spotlight.
Charles Darwin didn’t invent a belief system. He had an idea, not an ideology. The idea spawned a discipline, not disciples. He spent 20-plus years amassing and assessing the evidence and implications of similar, yet differing, creatures separated in time (fossils) or in space (islands). That’s science.
That’s why Darwin must go.
Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him. He knew nothing of heredity or genetics, both crucial to evolution. Evolution wasn’t even Darwin’s idea.